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Friday
Nov182011

On Being Busy

Backstage, all throughout the final concert of his career, Jason The Ridiculously Awesome Drum Major was very busy.

There were long pauses between his time with the baton in front of the crowd.  As his fellow bandsmen played through each selection, he took up his baton and pantomimed his own performances to them, twirling hand over hand, faking high tosses, and mimicking the occasional ground bounce.  He wandered into a dressing room to check on a football game played between two teams he did not care about.  Sometimes he performed exaggerated choreographic displays for the entertainment of the student staff and assistant conductors.  There was Chicken Dancing. 

Occasionally, while twirling the stick, Jason's own reflection in a long mirror caught his attention, and he looked back at it full-on, straight in the eye and with the air of a curious bystander, this flash of his own self in the full formal uniform of the Ohio State Drum Major. I stood with my hands clasped, let the music flow in from the stage, and let him be.

As backstage diversions go, he was stunning. It very nearly outstripped his work before the audience, which that night clicked along like a hypersonic fighter jet out for a grocery run:   What was happening when Jason was on stage was a kinetic wonder, and yet no one in the audience twisted their hands wondering whether or not he would catch the baton or land square on the stage.  He just would, that's all.  You could relax and enjoy the sight of him leaping several feet in the air to return all involved parties safely to the Earth.  It was a well-maintained roller coaster, not a wild plunge from a rocky cliff. 

He was a Drum Major performing at the summit of his athletic and emotional maturity, the physical skills he had been perfecting for years synching with a sophistication which can be only garnered on a stage instead of a practice field.  He had acheived this while still throwing forth the just-sparked fire of a man in love with his work; he was a pro without the weariness and cynicism which too often marks one.  As his predecessor and coach from childhood had hoped, Jason Stuckert had peaked, and with ramp entrances to spare. 

Occasionally, Greg Eyer came into the wings from the audience.  As the Band played "Take the A Train," and as Jason began semi-reprising his halftime show well out of sight of the crowd, Greg turned to me and said, "I twirled to this arrangement.  Still know it." 

He flipped a pretend stick in the air, stood beside his protoge, and performed it again.  At one point they mirrored one another, mentor and student slowly passing their batons, both real and imagined, through their legs.  And I watched 1986 and 2011 side by side until the song concluded.  And by then the clock had ticked forward some more.

So yes, Jason was very busy until there were about five minutes to go in the concert, and then he was very still.  The directors were preparing to announce the 2011 Most Inspirational Bandmember, the highest formal award The Ohio State University Marching Band can give.  It is bestowed by the members of the Band itself, not a clot of trustees and donors and alumni.  There have been fifty-seven Ohio State Drum Majors.  Of these, eight have been MIB.  And the announcement would go down and the concert would be over.

And Jason, suddenly quiet in a plastic chair backstage, knew this.  But the reason why he was suddenly still was precisely the reason why his name was about to be announced.  And it wasn't because he was just simply dying to have in his possession a wooden plaque in the shape of the state of Ohio.

I knelt down next to him on the dusty floorboards of Veteran's Memorial Stadium, covering his clasped hands with one of mine.

"I just want to thank everybody," he said, not looking at me, and then, still not looking at me, got up and walked to the edge of the stage.

And then he was in the spotlight with a microphone in one hand and the plaque in the other, thanking everybody.  And he came offstage and gathered his baton and his hat, holding both with care, for there was a week of rehearsals yet before his final home game.

There are still a few minutes left to go.

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